Nuclear new-build programme ‘will learn from past mistakes’

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Energy secretary Edward Davey today underlined the government’s commitment to deal with the UK’s nuclear legacy and to ensure that the nuclear new-build programme learns from past mistakes.

In a statement, he said policies to ensure new nuclear operators cover their waste and decommissioning costs will mean that future generations will not pay the price for nuclear electricity used decades before they were even born.

Today’s announcement follows the publication of a report by Sussex University’s Prof Gordon MacKerron of Science and Technology Policy Research into the history of managing nuclear waste and decommissioning.

The report says little or no thought was given to decommissioning facilities at end of life and that the military origins of the post-war UK nuclear industry led to the early civilian nuclear programme of gas-cooled reactors, which are more complex and expensive to decommission than light water reactors. The choice of second-generation advanced gas-cooled reactors, made on the basis of conflicted advice, compounded the effects, and the commitment to reprocessing spent fuel added further to costs.

Commenting on the report, Davey said: ‘The coalition wants to see new nuclear power come forward as part of a balanced energy mix. But there will be no subsidy, operators will be required to put money aside from day one to meet future clean-up and waste costs and we intend to substantially increase operators’ third-party liabilities.’

MacKerron said: ‘The history of managing and funding our nuclear legacy has, until very recently, been dire.

‘The establishment of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in 2005 was a substantial step forward — for the first time a single body focused entirely on managing the nuclear legacy.

‘Unsurprisingly, this has led to the discovery that the discounted costs of managing our nuclear liabilities will be more than £20bn more as at 2011 than expected in 2005. And there are indications that, when affordable, speeding up the work of remediation may offer good value for money.’